General Joseph L. Votel (Ret.) Joined BENS as CEO and President in January 2020 after a 39-year military career in which he commanded special operations and conventional forces at all levels; Lastly, he served as Commander of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), where he was responsible for US military and coalition operations in the Middle East, Levant, and Central and South Asia. General Votel’s career included fighting in Panama, Afghanistan and Iraq and he led the 79-member coalition that successfully liberated Iraq and Syria from the Islamic State Caliphate. General Votel preceded his assignment to CENTCOM with service as Commander of the United States Special Operations Command and the Joint Special Operations Command.
The encryption summary: Did you ever imagine that the United States would withdraw so quickly or completely leaving the Afghan army on its own without US air support?
General Votel: I did not anticipate this during my time, but once the president sets a difficult departure date, then a quick withdrawal is inevitable. No commander wants to take unnecessary risks with troops on the ground when faced with a clearly articulated departure date.
The encryption summary: Intelligence assessments greatly failed in the speed with which Kabul would fall, what factors most directly contributed to this?
General Votel: Certainly the departure of our own abilities is a large part of this; the lack of direct contact with Afghan leaders is another important factor; And, of course, once it became clear that we were leaving (and we removed our Commander), we lost priority and access to our normal and reliable Afghan intelligence sources.
The encryption summary: US personnel are facing a deteriorating security situation at Kabul airport while US forces are still deploying for the contingency operation, another sign that the administration underestimated how quickly the Taliban would reach Kabul. The United States could have chosen to stop the advance of the Taliban using air power, why didn’t it happen, do you think?
General Votel: I think it is very clear that this was no longer a priority for our Government. The mission at this time, at least articulated over the weekend, is about supporting the evacuation of diplomats and assisting with the departure of Afghans who helped the United States and meet the criteria for evacuation. While I don’t know for sure, I think what we were trying to do with air support on the horizon in a rapidly developing situation was not optimal or too effective. It doesn’t seem to have done much, if at all.
The encryption summary: The United States has allowed US-supplied military equipment, weapons and technology to fall into the hands of the Taliban, a group responsible for the deaths of US personnel and thousands of innocent Afghans. The US government holds private citizens and corporations liable for much lesser violations than export violations involving dual-use technology or military equipment, etc. , to potentially perpetrate acts of violence against the interests of the United States and to erode the democratic values that the United States tried to introduce in Afghanistan?
General Votel: I’m not sure about this. Unfortunately this is not the first time we have seen this, remember ISIS in 2014, in Mosul? I suspect it will be more trophy pieces than hard military capacity, with the exception of small arms, mortars, and artillery. Most of this will be difficult for the Taliban to maintain, and they will probably prefer their own equipment, anyway.
The encryption summary: There is a lot of anger amongst the national security community right now. What would you say to people who have suffered from America’s role in Afghanistan, who may be feeling anger and rage?
General Votel: I can’t really comment on the anger in the national security community; I’m sure it exists, but the feeling that strikes me as strongest is disappointment. Nobody wants what we are seeing now. I believe that most security professionals can accept the decision to depart from the Commander-in-Chief, that is within their authority and everyone understands it; what is more difficult to accept is the way it happened and how it has developed. It was difficult for me to see the Taliban sitting at a conference table where I once sat with the Afghan president. In various public engagements that I have participated in lately, people have asked me if all this effort was a waste. My response has been consistent. American military personnel, IC members, and the diplomatic corps behaved honorably during this war. They responded when the Nation called and did everything possible for our Country, for others and for the Afghan people. There will be plenty of time to blame, but the vast majority of Americans who participated in some aspect of the Afghan war did so nobly and to the best of their ability. We must not lose sight of this. That this did not turn out as we all expected, it is not their fault … and I do not want anyone (especially the families of our wounded and murdered) to think that these efforts were in vain. This is not how I thought of them at the time, and it is not how I think of them now. They responded when the Nation called.
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